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The center of the Spanish capital is a huddle of medieval alleyways and squares, with an elegant reminder of the old Habsburg capital between the Royal Palace and Plaza Mayor. Dissecting the center is the Manhattan-style Gran Vía. Across the wide modern Castellana Avenue, leading north to the Plaza Castilla, lies the spacious Parque del Retiro, surrounded by 19th-century residential areas. The lower part of Castellana Avenue is the most beautiful, stretching from the lush tree-shaded Paseo del Prado and running alongside the world-famous museum to cosmopolitan Recoletos, with the city's most elegant cafe terraces. Fanning out around Madrid, expanding new suburbs and fashionable American-style satellite towns are gradually absorbing much of the capital's booming five-million-plus population.

Equip yourself with a good city map before exploring the town. One of the best and most detailed is the Michelin version, which sells at around 6€ in the travel sections of large stores like the Corte Inglés, FNAC, or Casa del Libro (the latter's located near the Gran Vía metro stop). The free maps given away by tourist offices and hotels are generally less detailed, giving a mere outline of the fascinating maze of little streets that form the labyrinthine center.

4-5° izda.: A Miniguide to Deciphering the Mystery of Madrid Addresses

The numbers and abbreviations in Spanish addresses can seem complicated when the hotel, pension, gallery, or private residence is located above the ground floor. (Remember: In Europe, the ground floor is the floor on the ground, and is the equivalent to the first floor in the U.S. The first floor in Europe is the one above the ground floor, which is equivalent to the second floor in the U.S.) Once you understand what all the symbols and abbreviations mean, however, you'll find that addresses in Spain are actually quite detailed and specific, explaining where the establishment is located with the utmost precision. Also note that in Spain, as in many other European countries, the building number comes after the street name. Here is a brief explanation of how addresses work:

The first number represents the number of the address on a particular street (for example, Hotel Adler is at Calle Velázquez 33). Sometimes the address may cover two street numbers, separated by a dash or the word y, which means "and" (for example, Hotel Occidental is at Miguel Angel 29-31, while Hotel Tryp Ambassador is at Cuesta Santo Domingo 5 y 7).

The second number, or the number after the street number(s), is followed by a ° (degree symbol). This represents the piso (floor) that the establishment is on. For instance, Hotel Riesco is at Calle Correo 2-3°, which means the hotel is on the third floor at number 2 on Calle Correo; Hotel Astoria is at Carrera de San Jerónimo 30-32-5°, which means the hotel is on the fifth floor at nos. 30-32 on Carrera de San Jerónimo.

After the number with a degree symbol, you may see a third item. This will really only apply to a private residence or a small gallery. If there are only two units on a particular floor, you might see izda. or dcha. These abbreviations for the izquierda (left) or derecha (right), respectively, signal the location of the establishment within the building. For example, the Guillermo de Osma Art Gallery is at Claudio Coello 4-1° izda., which means the gallery is on the left side of the first floor of no. 4 on Claudio Coello. Alternatively, if the establishment is on a floor containing more than two apartments or galleries (generally, there may be up to six), you might see something with a superscript a or o, representing the unit number, such as 1° or 1a (primero/a) for the first unit, 3° or 3a (tercero/a) for the third unit, and so on. For example, Calle de Ferraz 32-34-2°-5° designates the fifth unit on the second floor at nos. 32-34 on Calle de Ferraz, and Calle del Amparo 21-3°-6a is the sixth unit on the third floor of no. 21 on Calle del Amparo.

And just to complicate matters even more, finding an address within Madrid's grand boulevards and cramped meandering streets can sometimes be a problem, primarily because of the way buildings are numbered. On most streets, the numbering begins on one side and runs consecutively until the end, resuming on the other side and going in the opposite direction. Thus, no. 50 could be opposite no. 250. But there are many exceptions to this system. That's why it's important to know the cross street as well as the number of the address you're looking for. In fact, some addresses don't have a number at all. What they have is the designation s/n, which means sin número (without number). For example, the address of the Panteón de Goya (Goya's Tomb) is Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida s/n.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.